The European Union: Unity in Diversity or Unity vs Diversity? (II)

Part I

In France, Spain 

Another example of a cultural restriction is a widely sounded decision in France, where all religious symbols were forbidden in schools. First of all, the human – rights of all kinds of religious groups were violated, the Muslim in the first place, as Islamic professor Azam Tamimi says.[1]  Furthermore, almost none of the Islamic expression of feelings or political view is tolerated, because it is seen as the terrorist, fundamentalist, or extremist attitude or demonstration. Everyday conflicts appear to be a serious problem even in the cosmopolitan Netherlands. Meanwhile, Muslims say that their culture has been misunderstood and so – condemned to being innocent.

Another situation is, for instance, in Spain, where H. Gimeno Catholic school has canceled Christmas vacations and celebrations concerning Muslim students.[2] Their cultural and religious tradition that Spanish children used to follow for years and years before is gone – who knows, maybe forever? Then what about signs of Christianity in the same French schools? Is it so that to avoid national or religious conflicts, no one is longer allowed to be religious at all? Or shall we stop leading our own cultural traditions in our own country – with respect to national minorities? Both ways of solution of such kind of problems seem to be wrong and unfair.

The EU: Big brothers vs small sisters

Still, toleration is a big open sore for most multicultural societies. Even the oldest EU members (EU 6), such as France or Germany do not cope with nationality differences very well. Many of millions of German aliens, even born and have been living there for 20–30 years, are excluded from the state’s political life, because the process of getting citizenship is too complicated and painful for many (among other technical requirements, the alien must be willing to renounce his/her former citizenship), besides, it costs a lot.[3] In this way, national minorities are forced to feel themselves at the wrong place, not to talk about a feel-like- home situation.

Arnoldas Pranckevičius, the former counselor of the Lithuanian President, and a former employee in the EU in Brussels had a rough experience of being “not Frenchman” while studying in Paris for two years.[4] He says, that he failed to get a place to live many times and confronted numerous other bureaucratic obstacles, as he quoted the official letter: “it is impossible because of your nationality”. Moreover, A. Pranckevicius revealed another big problem, related to EU changes in France. There is a more and more obvious fact that social differences are not disappearing, but even growing bigger. The biggest world cities become a potential battlefield for different cultures and civilizations. A half-hour trip in the metro sometimes shows an obvious gap between first and third world – it says in the interview.

George Orwell’s best-known quotation about more equal animals fits also in other aspects of the EU’s policy. It is proved a long time ago that isolated cultures preserve themselves better than those, actively communicating with others. For example, the Norwegian language situation is more than unusual now. By having a special geographical situation – mountains, most Norwegian dialects had kept their specialties up to now. Meanwhile, the main cities have a mixture of dialects, which constantly evolve further. The same seems to be felt in the EU’s countries. For example, Lithuania has already accepted mildly said, many new traditions and cultural elements from the Western countries. It is freakish to compare, but in the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian cultural heritage was challenged by only the Russian one. However, Lithuanians kept their language and folklore as everything. Today, Lithuanians get more information and offer from other national wealth, and so – their own culture is in even more danger of changing and disappearing. The Lithuanian language became very under the influences of the English one maybe even more compared to the Russian influences before.[5]

Neighborhood policyThe worst thing is that the poorest and smallest states have no supplies to whoop- de- do their own nationality but have no choice in choosing to confront the massive ones or not. They just do it. And so, children do not distinguish different cultures any longer. They just take the common European culture (which is, however, based on the richest and most powerful EU nations). As all kinds of borders disappear within the EU, nations are forced to confront each other day by day. Obligatory sharing of different cultural specialties is an apparent danger for the nation as such.

Small (Eastern) sisters’ states have no choice in being equal with big (Western) brothers’ states within the EU, the former has just the option to accept the EU’s decisions framed by the big brothers. The Lithuanian Government didn’t even ask for the opinion of the citizens about the appreciation of the EU’s Constitution and just did it according to the pattern by the Western brothers. The same as Lithuania could not say no to the € currency. The referendum for or against € currency never was organized and Lithuania accepted € without the approval by its citizens (the same as the membership to NATO). However, it was the Lithuanian Government, that made this kind of decision, but still – had the choice? We have an example of another small country – Switzerland, which can always decide for its own good. Who would not – while sitting on worlds- jackpot? Lithuania was trapped between two gigantic powers: Russia and the EU/NATO. The Government made the choice. There is only it to be blamed if something really gets very wrong in the future but not the citizens.[6]

Common currency and common language

Such acquisitions may sound like propaganda, if not based on the EU’s policy itself. Speaking about € currency, everything gets even more complicated, though expected to be so easy and clear: one Europe, one currency. While, for instance, the Baltic States accepted € currency without any hesitation, Great Britain, Denmark, and Sweden rejected the introduction of this currency also without any hesitation. Here national interests get awakened even more than ever.

…the Maastricht provisions for monetary union contain not only hard criteria but also an obligatory timetable[7] – Garton Ash points out. And adds immediately:

When the French Government last year introduced a program of cuts in public welfare spending designed to meet the Maastricht budget deficit target, it met with a wave of public protests and strikes.[8] 

Does that mean that even the Euro-optimistic Frenchmen got tired of struggling with what is common and what is personal for each member? To be more exact, the economic difficulties, not mentioning national nostalgia, are even more problematic in most other states. Lithuania, while trying hard to fulfill the criteria of getting € currency, shamefully failed in 2006. But all citizens have been feeling the consequences of that struggle painfully. Prices grew significantly; the state’s budget was adjusted to what is necessary for getting € currency. That seemed to be a kind of psychotic setting of strange priorities to something alien to the citizens, while national interests and needs for a longer time ahead were pulled aside. However, Baltic Lithuania is not the only one in this matter.

In Germany, opposition to the EMU (the European Monetary Union) was wide and deep first of all nationally. The national currency is the symbol of post-war German identity, much more than in France or Britain. It stands for prosperity, stability, security, democracy, peaceful German achievements – wrote Garton Ash in his lecture-script. Besides, the DM was Europe’s leading currency, and it is exactly the German monetary system that would perfectly fit the whole of Europe. That is what Garton Ash states Germans to claim. It was not easy both for Germans or other Europeans to give their national currencies. For many it still is, and, quite credible, will be in the future. National currencies, however, are symbols of independence and particularity of the nation with national celebrities and heroes on them. While a new ironic term – “Esperanto money” – appears, it makes many get worried about the European future – shall we create a Euro-language? Just think – it would be even easier for all travelers and the common market. Not mentioning the EU’s language-bureaucracy complications, which would disappear together with language obstacles. 

Probably it is overemphasized, but not impossible. The situation we have now makes all Europeans know at least one, in more favorable case, two or better – three foreign languages, which includes English, German and French (is it a coincidence that languages represent most high-powered the EU’s Member States?). Although it is officially stated that all EU papers are translated to all Member State languages, there are cases when it appears to be a lie. At least in some cases, but still – the EU does not do as much as it could – to preserve less represented languages. Language status of Member States is still different, and is not going to be equalized so easily: the European Parliament, while supporting the Report on Multilingualism, voted with a large majority against many of the substantive measures in Bernat Joan’s Report on November 15th, 2006.[9] The guarantee of a fair funding allocation for the agencies responsible for lesser-used languages was not given. To be more precise, the EU’s authorities refused to give it. Up to now, 10% of the EU’s citizens cannot communicate with the EU in their mother tongue, because it has a regional, but not official status, says Maria Badia (PSOE).[10] Bernat Joan pointed out that: 

… for this parliament, multilingualism only refers to the official languages of the Member States, neglecting a much richer and complex reality. Europe is not just a mere conglomeration of states and linguistic diversity is not only related to those languages with strong legal status.

There was once an Irishman who said:

A people without a language of their own is only half a nation. A nation should guard its language more than its territories…[11]

Unfortunately, the EU does not give such an opportunity for all nations equally. By hearing Mr. Vidal Quadras (Spanish PP-EPP) calling the Report supporting the EU’s multilingualism an opportunistic attempt by the rapporteur to come up with nationalist, separatist rhetoric, or accusing its inspirators of using languages to promote the disintegration of the Member States[12]awakens serious worries about the survival of the so diverse cultural heritage of the Old Continent.

Final words

The historical roots of the EU are in WWII when the idea of European integration in 1947 was aimed to prevent such destruction and bloodshed in the future. Initially, the EU consisted of six West European countries: Benelux, West Germany, Italy, and France. Today, the EU is composed of 27 Member States becoming very diverse and problematic. The Eurosceptics (primarily in the UK) are concerned that membership in the EU undermines national sovereignty, i.e., independence and ability for self-government of existing states. For the Eurosceptics, European diversity is more a problem than an advantage followed by a constant “democratic deficit” within the framework of the decision-making procedure and implementation.

Tower of BabelOn other hand, supporters of the EU argue that it has delivered half a century of stability, peace, and prosperity. It helped to raise living standards, built a single European market, launched the single European currency, and strengthened Europe’s position in global politics. The EU fosters cooperation among the peoples of Europe, promoting unity and at the same time preserving diversity.

Nevertheless, the EU was created because of noble striving, but there are too many gaps left in the system. The cultures suffer losses that are probably irreparable even now: refusing national currency, entire communities leaving their homelands, cultural mixture, both volunteer and forced in a way. All this does not seem to be changing soon. The most upsetting is the fact that the Member States do not have equality, and those of a more important status use their situation for their own sake. There is a lot to be changed in the EU’s national-cultural policy. The question remains: When? And even: Is it going to change at all? In other cases, we will have to change the slogan to something like Unity. No Diversity. Or how would we like the EU modified to the USE (the United States of Europe) – with one currency, one language, and culture? Unfortunately, now the preservation of different cultural heritage seems to be only topical for special institutions, which do not get proper attention and support from those who can and should give it.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.

Endnotes: 

[1] George Friedman (translated by Justina Zeizyte), Integracijos klausimas:

http://www.xxiamzius.lt/archyvas/priedai/horizontai/20051116/7-1.html

[2] Rimvydas Valatka, Sventu Kaledu nebus. Po 20 metu: www.lrytas.lt.,  Vilnius, 11.12. 2006.

[3] Mark J. Miller, “Dual Citizenship: A European Norm?”, International Migration Review, Vol. 23, No. 4. (Winter, 1989), pp. 945–950.

[4] Rytis Masiliunas, Europą turetų pabudinti grėsmės varpai is Prancūzijos: http://www.politika.lt/index.php?cid=9316&new_id=9158

[5] See more in: Cathie Carmichael, “Coming to Terms with the Past: Language and Nationalism in Russia and its Neighbours”, Stephen Barbour, Cathie Carmichael (eds.), Language and Nationalism in Europe, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 264−279.

[6] See more in: Joachim Tauber, “The Rough Road to the West: Lithuania 1990−1998”, Lithuanian Foreign Policy Review, 99/3, Foreign Policy Research Center, Vilnius, 1999, pp. 67−86.

[7] Garton Ash, “Is Europe Becoming Europe?”, Sanford S. Elberg Lecture, Institute of International Studies, UC, Berkeley, http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/Elberg/GartonAsh/ga-elb04.html

[8] Ibid.

[9] Davyth Hicks, Unity in Diversity? European Parliament backs Multilingualism Report but rejects many of Bernat Joan‘s proposals:

http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2763&Itemid=0

[10] Ibid.

[11] Carl Darling Buck, “Language and the Sentiment of Nationality”, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 10, No. 1. (February 1916), pp. 44–69.

[12] Davyth Hicks, Unity in Diversity? European Parliament backs Multilingualism Report but rejects many of Bernat Joan‘s proposals:

http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2763&Itemid=0

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One Comment
  1. BU Student

    European Union as a project is a Nazi creation in 1945

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